Firefox Frustration

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Now that everyone from Google to IBM is hiring Firefox devs and at least tacitly sponsoring development, I have one big To Do for them: fix the corruption of user profiles issue. It’s a problem rarely encountered, but when it first happens to you it’s immensely frustrating.

In my experience, it’s liable to occur when Firefox is unexpectedly shut down or killed. When you try and restart the application, it asks you to select a “Profile” because the one you were using is “in use.” As near as I can determine, that’s Firefox-speak for telling you that the profile you were using has been irreparably corrupted. Reboot, and everything may be ok, but hasn’t been for me twice now. The only path left to you at this point is to start a new profile (unless you perform regular backups of your Firefox directory). Unfortunately, that typically means leaving all of your bookmarks and extensions behind and essentially starting from the base browser again.

The geeks out there know that the extensions and bookmarks are not actually lost – they remain available in the hidden /.mozilla/firefox/[profilename] directory and can be copied to the new profile relatively easily – but there’s no way that Joe or Sally User is going to figure that out. Instead, he or she is most likely going to start from scratch, and be very unhappy about it. Maybe even switch back to IE.

And lest you think this is a problem that just affects those of us likely to be doing things that will randomly kill our machine (folks like me), I just had this come up with a friend of mine I got onto Firefox. Luckily he was able to restart and recover, but next time he might not be so lucky.

So for any of you out there working on Firefox, I urge you to look into this before it costs you some users. Or if I’m wrong and there’s some magical fix for this, let me know.


  1. I use to run into this problem all the time on my linux desktop but the problem wasn't a corrupt profile. Sometimes when Firefox would crashes, the process stays live. When I would start it again, I'd get that "Choose Profile" dialog.

    The fix for me was always to cancel the choose profile dialog, kill the orphaned process manually, and then start Firefox again.

    You should be able to kill the orphaned process with something like this:

    $ killall Firefox-bin

  2. hey Ryan – tried that, unfortunately, and it wasn't the issue. i've done the "ps aux | grep Firefox" bit, killed running processes – even restarted – and still had the issue.

    definitely worth mentioning though.

  3. Ryan's fix has always worked for me with the Windows version.

  4. What I would like is a dead simple way to package up my Firefox configuration so that I can move it to another machine. I do synchronize my bookmarks via ftp to my web server and it's not that hard to reinstall the extensions, but it should be easier to export a configuration and then import it somewhere else. (Or am I just missing something?)


  5. Err, you probably checked this but, every time FF (or mozilla) get's executed, a lock file is created in the same folder your configuration is. Make sure FF isn't running and delete that file.

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